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Pros & Cons of Government Healthcare


Pros & Cons of Government Healthcare

Photo: David McNew/Getty Images

"Government healthcare" refers to government funding of healthcare services via direct payments to doctors, hospitals and other providers.

In U.S. government healthcare, doctors, hospitals and other medical professionals are not employed by the government. Instead, they provide medical and health services, as normal, and are reimbursed by the government, just as insurance companies reimburse them for services.

An example of a successful U.S. government healthcare program is Medicare, established in 1965 to provide health insurance for people aged 65 and over, or who meet other criteria such as disability.

The U.S. is the only industrialized country in the world, democratic or non-democratic, without universal healthcare for all citizens provided by government-funded coverage.

50 Million Uninsured Americans in 2009

In mid-2009, Congress is working to reform U.S. healthcare insurance coverage which presently leaves more than 50 million men, women and children uninsured and without access to adequate medical and health services.

All healthcare coverage, except for some low-income children and those covered by Medicare, is now provided only by insurance companies and other private-sector corporations.

Private company insurers, though, have proven quite ineffective at controlling costs, and actively work to exclude healthcare coverage whenever feasible.

Explains Ezra Klein at the Washington Post:

"The private insurance market is a mess. It's supposed to cover the sick and instead competes to insure the well. It employs platoons of adjusters whose sole job is to get out of paying for needed health care services that members thought were covered."

In fact, multi-million bonuses are awarded annually to top healthcare executives as incentive to deny coverage to policy holders.

As a result, in the United States today:

  • "Over a third of families living below the poverty line are uninsured. Hispanic Americans are more than twice as likely to be uninsured as white Americans while 21% of black Americans have no health insurance.
  • More than 9 million children lack health insurance in America.
  • Eighteen thousand people die each year because they are uninsured."
Slate.com reported in 2007, "The current system is increasingly inaccessible to many poor and lower-middle-class people... those lucky enough to have coverage are paying steadily more and/or receiving steadily fewer benefits."

(See Page Two for specific Pros & Cons of Government Healthcare.)

Latest Developments

In mid-2009, several coalitions of Congressional Democrats are heatedly crafting competing healthcare insurance reform legislation. Republicans have generally not offered substantive healthcare reform legislation in 2009.

President Obama has voiced support for universal healthcare coverage for all Americans which would be provided by selecting among various coverage options, including an option for government-funded healthcare (aka a public plan option or public option).

However, the President has stayed safely on the political sidelines, thus far, forcing Congressional clashes, confusion, and setbacks in delivering on his campaign promise to "make available a new national health plan to all Americans."

Healthcare Packages Under Consideration

Most Democrats in Congress support universal healthcare coverage for all Americans which offers various options for insurance providers, and includes a low-cost, government-funded healthcare option.

Under the multi-option scenario, Americans satisfied with their present insurance can opt to keep their coverage. Americans dissatisfied, or without coverage, can opt for government-funded coverage.

Republicans complain that the free-market competition offered by a lower-cost public-sector plan would cause private-sector insurance companies to cut their services, lose customers, would inhibit profitability, or go entirely out of business.

Many progressive liberals and other Democrats believe strongly that the only fair, just U.S. healthcare delivery system would be a single payer system, such as Medicare, in which only low-cost government-funded healthcare coverage is provided to all Americans on an equal basis.

Americans Favor Public Plan Option

Per the Huffington Post about a June 2009 NBC/Wall Street Journal poll, "... 76 percent of respondents said it was either 'extremely' or 'quite' important to 'give people a choice of both a public plan administered by the federal government and a private plan for their health insurance.'"

Likewise, a New York Times/CBS News poll found that "The national telephone survey, which was conducted from June 12 to 16, found that 72 percent of those questioned supported a government-administered insurance plan — something like Medicare for those under 65 — that would compete for customers with private insurers. Twenty percent said they were opposed."


Democrat Harry Truman was the first U.S. President to urge Congress to legislate government healthcare coverage for all Americans.

Per Healthcare Reform in America by Michael Kronenfield, President Franklin Roosevelt intended for Social Security to also incorporate healthcare coverage for seniors, but shied away for fear of alienating the American Medical Association.

In 1965, President Lyndon Johnson signed into law the Medicare program, which is a single payer, government healthcare plan. After signing the bill, President Johnson issued the first Medicare card to former President Harry Truman.

In 1993, President Bill Clinton appointed his wife, well-versed attorney, Hillary Clinton, to head a commission charged with forging a massive reform of U.S. healthcare. After major political missteps by the Clintons and an effective, fear-mongering campaign by Republicans, the Clinton healthcare reform package was dead by Fall 1994.

The Clinton administration never tried again to overhaul healthcare, and Republican President George Bush was ideologically opposed to all forms of government-funded social services.

Healthcare reform was a top campaign issue among 2008 Democratic presidential candidates. Presidential candidate Barack Obama promised that he will "make available a new national health plan to all Americans, including the self-employed and small businesses, to buy affordable health coverage that is similar to the plan available to members of Congress." See the entirety at Obama Campaign Promises: Health Care.

(See Page Two for specific Pros & Cons of Government Healthcare.)

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